When you vote at the Senedd elections you have two boxes to tick – one for the constituency and one for the region.
For your constituency vote, you vote for the person you want to represent you. But for the regional vote – which covers a much larger geographical area – you vote for your preferred party.
You might think that you should vote in the latter according to which party you think best represents you, but it’s actually a lot more complicated that that. That’s because of the way our 60 Members of the Senedd are elected.
Two thirds of the seats (40 in total) are elected via constituencies using the First Past the Post system (FPTP) i.e those who win the most votes on election day win.
For the second vote, Wales is split into five regions made up of between seven and nine of the single member constituencies – North Wales, Mid & West Wales, South Wales Central, South Wales East and South Wales West. Each region returns four Members (20 in total) and all regional and constituency Members have equal status in the Senedd.
The regional seats are allocated based on a slightly different method – the Welsh Additional Member System – which tries to bring in an element of proportional representation into the voting system. Arguably, it can be seen as a way to effectively ‘top up’ those parties who don’t get in at constituency level and means the final share of seats in the Senedd is closer to their share on the vote.
Before the election each political party has chosen a list of candidates in each region and arranged them in the party’s order of preference, with the candidate that the party would most like to see elected placed first. The Additional Member System uses something called the d’Hondt method, which allocates the available seats (four for each region) in a number of rounds. In each round, a ‘quotient’ is calculated for each party. This is the number of votes divided by one plus the number of seats already allocated to the party.
The party with the highest quotient is allocated a seat, and the process is repeated until all four regional seats have been decided.
This is where it gets technical, because the way the system works means it’s virtually impossible for Labour to win a regional seat in the South Wales West, South Wales East and South Wales Central regions, because it wins the most constituency seats overall in those same areas.
So this is where tactical voting comes into play. In the South Wales West, South Wales East and South Wales Central regions, the Tories or Plaid have the best chance of winning list seats. Or in North Wales, the marginal constituencies make the regional list seats too close to call so Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives or Labour all have a shot at winning.
It’s hard to make an informed second vote because the regional seats are handed out based on who wins in the constituencies and, because both votes are cast at the same time, you have no idea how things will turn out in the constituencies beforehand. The volatility of the polls this year makes that even harder to call on Thursday.
But there are some well-educated guesses we can make about who can benefit the most from tactical voting in each region.
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South Wales Central
Seats: Cardiff Central, Cardiff North, Cardiff South and Penarth, Cardiff West, Cynon Valley, Pontypridd, Rhondda and Vale of Glamorgan.
For a start, it’s pretty pointless voting Labour in the regional election as they are likely to win nearly all of the constituency seats. They would have to lose the Vale of Glamorgan, Cardiff West and Cardiff Central constituencies before they even get a sniff at a regional seat.
The last time round, the Conservatives pulled in 86,878 regional votes on top of two constituency seats. They still picked up two regional seats and Plaid and UKIP picked up one each.
But with the near-demise of UKIP, it will be decided by where those UKIP votes go. This year it’s likely to be a tussle between the Tories (the Vale of Glamorgan is their top target seat in Wales), Plaid, Abolish and maybe the Green Party.
South Wales East
Seats: Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Islwyn, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, Monmouth, Newport East, Newport West and Torfaen.
Labour hold all but one of the constituencies here and that’s unlikely to change.
Plaid Cymru has high hopes for Caerphilly and could feasibly win Blaenau Gwent but that would have little impact on Labour’s chance at a regional seat.
The Tories will probably pick up two seats and Plaid will pick up the third. The remaining seat will be a contest between Plaid, Abolish and the Green Party.
South Wales West
Seats: Aberavon, Bridgend, Gower, Neath, Ogmore, Swansea East, and Swansea West.
This is Labour heartland: Labour have won every constituency here at every election since devolution began. It means there’s no chance it will get a regional list seat on top.
So tactical voters will have to choose between the Tories or Plaid Cymru.
In the unlikely, but not impossible, event that the Conservatives do manage to turn the Gower blue, and Plaid Cymru cause an upset by wining Neath, then the regional vote could bring Abolish the Assembly into the mix.
Mid and West Wales
Seats: Brecon and Radnorshire, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Llanelli, Montgomeryshire, Preseli Pembrokeshire.
The big question here is who will win the constituency seat in Brecon and Radnorshire, the very last remaining constituency seat in all of Wales, at both Senedd and Westminster levels, for the Liberal Democrats.
If the Lib Dems keep hold of it then a vote for them on the regional list is probably a completely wasted one. If they lose their seat to the Tories, however, they would be in a prime position to pick up a seat on the regional list.
There are some options here for the tactical voter.
If you think the Lib Dems will lose their constituency, then they’re the best bet if you want to deny Abolish the Assembly a regional seat here.
Llanelli is a hyper-marginal constituency seat with fewer than 1,000 votes separating Labour and Plaid Cymru at all but one of the five Senedd elections. If you’re a Plaid Cymru supporter and don’t feel confident in Llanelli, your list vote would give them a boost to win a regional seat instead.
Labour voters are better off voting Labour to maximise the chances of a second or even a third list seat, depending on what happens in Llanelli.
Seats: Aberconwy, Alyn and Deeside, Arfon, Clwyd South, Clwyd West, Delyn, Vale of Clwyd, Wrexham and Ynys Môn.
No single party dominates with Plaid Cymru, Labour and the Conservatives all having their share of seats.
When the ‘Red Wall’ crumbled Labour in 2019, Wrexham was a key brick in that wall. It means this is one seat the Conservatives really should be winning if they hope to gain any ground in the Senedd.
When it comes to the regional list, no party apart from Abolish the Assembly are likely to challenge the main three.
For the tactical voter, your best bet is to vote how you want.